Monday, December 31, 2007

An email from Stefan next

Stefan dropped me a line, too. He commiserated about the length of time Värmdö takes to grant permissions. He found they have a much longer waiting list than other kommuns, and in his words, "there's not much to do, just wait and see."

It just struck me that tomorrow will begin 2008, and that one way or another, we'll have our house in this year. An exciting prospect....!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A message from Johan

Johan is the man I met at the Hus Expo who sells the Cinderella toilet. He just sent me an email saying he read on my blog that I was looking at the Incinolet as an alternative.

First off, I was quite impressed he looked at my blog; in fact, I'm still surprised when anyone reads it! Secondly, he gave me a lot of good information about the good and bad points of both toilets. (Well, mostly the bad points of the Incinolet).

Coincidentally, I received an email the very next day from a colleague in Dallas who said he could have an Incinolet shipped pretty inexpensively to Stockholm. Even with customs duties, it would still be lots cheaper than the Cinderella.

Johan's store is not too far from Marcia and Rutger's, so we'll plan to stop by when we visit in February. I was really pleased that he wrote.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Power of Attorney

Margaret called just before Christmas to tell me Janne had a call from our man at the kommun (whose name is Per, by the way). He wanted a letter from us, authorising Janne to complete and sign documents on our behalf. Margaret suggested the proper wording for the letter, and we signed and posted it right away.

Margaret said Per wanted this authorisation quickly; perhaps it's just bureaucracy, or maybe it's a good sign??

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Winter visit

We've just booked our tickets for early February. Janne's invited us to spend a couple of nights on Aspö with him; it will be fun to see the island when it's pretty much deserted and snow-covered.

We'll also see Margaret and her shop, of course, and we'll spend a few nights with Marcia and Rutger, too. Rutger and I will go shopping for house stuff, and I'm sure the girls will go searching for interior objects.

Our trip will provide fodder for many posts during the potentially slow months ahead!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The well is done

Both Janne and Tony have reported that it's bubbling up nicely from the ground. (Water, that is, not Texas tea.)

Total depth was 43 meters- just as I had estimated. Total cost for the drilling is 30% less than my budget figure. Things are looking up. (Or down, in the case of the well).

UPDATE: The well is 5 inches in diameter. The well Baby Jessica fell down was 8 inches in diameter, plus ours is capped, so we're safe.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I talked to Janne again and he filled me in on the paperwork he's doing on my behalf.

First, because the house is new, the kommun wants to come out and make their own measurements and markings on the land. They'll charge me a few thousand kronor for the privilege- but at least it's something I had budgeted for.

Second, they want information on waste water and sewage. Our toilet (whatever type it is) will be self-contained, so no issues there. Grey water from the sinks and shower need to be drained away; there is a natural drainage path off the rock, so Janne will show that in a drawing as part of the application.

Janne also said he'd call the kommun every month and nag them. I don't see Janne as a nag; he's too nice for that. Me, I'm a pushy American, I know how to nag! But I'll leave it to him for now.

We also talked about electricity, but that's another post.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Kommun calls Janne back the next day

...and it's not with good news. Essentially, they're swamped with applications and it now looks like a nine month approval timeline, not six as I was planning. This means the end of June for permission, not the end of March. And that would mean construction in August or September, not June. Drat.

However, I am glad they called Janne, even with disappointing news, as it shows we have good communication. And although even Janne can't make the wheels of local government move swiftly, he does have a lot of local knowledge and credibility with the planning people. So that can only help. And they are sending Janne some further paperwork that he's going to complete on my behalf, to keep things moving along.

What next? We could get an interim building permit early, which would allow me to stick to my June building plans, and we'll pursue that in a few months. Or they might just be pessimistic at the Kommun and are giving us the latest possible dates, so we can be pleasantly surprised later. (I'm not counting on that one).

Worst case is that we build a few months later, which would cause me scheduling problems, but nothing insurmountable, I suppose. (Actually, the really worst case is if the Kommun asks for lots of changes in the house design or their layout on the land. That would be a real bummer, so I'm not thinking about that just yet!!)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Janne talks to the Kommun

Margaret emailed: "Janne reached the Kommun and 'things are proceeding along as they should' which basically means that if you don't receive any letters from them asking for more information, then things are fine and the decision should be ready by the end of March.

"God only knows why they need so much time, but there you have it. I guess they have a lot of applications. The guy at the Kommun now has Janne's cell phone and promises to ring him if anything comes up.
" news is good news, I guess. At least we'll have the well soon.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Well

Janne called over the weekend. He was asked to help a couple of neighbors have a well drilled so he had the driller visit our land to give me a quote for doing ours, too.

This is the sort of thing I hoped we could do, as we could share the transport costs of the drill among three households rather than my paying for that all myself. It's a win all around for me, my new neighbors, and the drilling man... all thanks to Janne.

The cost I was quoted is within my budget- hooray! It's a flat cost up to 40 meters and then so much per meter extra. Janne's well is 60 meters, but another house he's working on is 11 meters. I would be willing to bet we'll be 40 or maybe a little more. The drilling should take place next week, so I'll report back.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Blå Måne

It's common here in the UK for homes to have names, rather than street numbers. For example, we used to live in "Abbot's Leigh" and our neighbor's home was "Silver Birches". (Further down the street was "Betula" and I never found out where that name came from.)

We decided to name our house, and Sooz came up with the name: "Blue Moon", or in Swedish, "Blå Måne".

There are a few reasons: blue is my favourite colour; our dog, Ollie, is a blue merle corgi; the Chicago Cubs play in blue, and a sunny day in the islands is filled with shades of blue from the sea and sky.

Truthfully, though, the main reason is that "Blue Moon" is the signature song of the supporters of Manchester City Football Club. I've sung it at many football grounds, usually in a losing cause. However, City have a Swedish manager these days and are on the up, so we're becoming quite a popular club in our adopted homeland. I consider it a good omen...!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Janne calls the Kommun

As I posted earlier, I asked Janne if he could call the Värmdö Kommun on my behalf to chase up our application.

Margaret just sent me an email: "Janne got the office this morning and (get ready, this is Sweden in a nutshell) all case-workers are on a conference this week; back on Monday the 10th. To be continued..."

I shall, of course, update you all as soon as possible.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Washing Machines

Sooz said early on that she wanted a washing machine. Margaret said there were very few on the island; even she and Janne didn't have one!

This made Sooz think she was being a bit extravagant, but then she realised why there were so few washing machines- it's because most everyone else just takes their laundry back home to Stockholm. Taking our dirty clothes back over the ocean is a different proposition.

There are a lot of little units available for those small Swedish flats and we're going put one in the bathroom, but probably not the first year. We'll make sure we put the electricity and water in place for when we're ready.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


A kakelugn is a traditional Swedish stove/fireplace, usually tiled, though not always. The one pictured here is much like the one in Margaret and Janne's Stockholm flat.

I found a fantastic website of a company who specializes in reclaimed traditional kakelugn. I've seen a lot of these types of stoves all over Sweden.

The reason I include these is another comment made by my mother. She asked if I had to have a modern fireplace in our little modern house. That got me thinking. Not to sound pretentious, but I like the philosophy of Mies ("less is more") and want to go simple in our home.

But there is another way of thinking; Robert Venturi called it "less is bore". Don't be afraid of a little decoration or prettiness! Maybe a 1850's Swedish fireplace in an otherwise modern home would be interesting?? Something to think about...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

I got an email from the webmaster at They found my blog (I assume through an automated process) and asked if they could link to it on their website. There's a bunch of people like me who are building a home and documenting the process online.

Since it's a pretty cool and useful website, and since I'd love a wider audience, I of course said yes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Another Modern Fireplace

This one is European; French, to be exact. The model pictured here is the 'Gyrofocus'. There are a few other suspended models, too. Pretty funky stuff. 

More details can be seen on the company's website. We have found a distributor in Stockholm, so I would be able to avoid the hassles of importation, at least.

We talked to Stefan about installing something like this and there's no problem with doing so. The long flue would look dramatic, reaching up to the high ceiling!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Sooz has advised me to cut back on my comments about money. She thinks it's a bit crass to keep mentioning how much things cost, and my whining about the exchange rate is annoying. As usual, she's right, and I am trying to be careful how I come across in print.

However, I talk about money for a reason, and not just because I'm cheap. Building a house requires making lots of decisions, and unless you're Aaron Spelling, money is finite, so compromises have to be made. I'd love an hi-tech toilet and Goldfinger's fireplace, but can I afford both? Maybe I should get a bigger hot-water tank instead. That's not sexy, but a hot shower is darned nice to have.

An architect acquaintance once told me a big part of her job was to help her clients decide what it is they really wanted, so the budget could be spent on that. Every client, she said, wanted more than they could afford. There's a constant tension between what is technically possible and what is financially possible.

My goal is to write about money in a useful, but not crass way. Sooz will correct me if I stray from that path, I'm sure!!!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Traditional fireplaces

My readership (specifically, my mother) wanted to see a few traditional Swedish fireplaces. Pictured is a classic design from Spis Miljo. They have lots of funky designs, too. 

Another company with a wide range of fireplaces is Keddy (I like the Carisma) and a Danish company, Rais, who had an enormous display at the Hus Expo. Their website is in English, too, which is a bonus. 

However, most of our time at the house will be spent over the summers, so a fireplace isn't an immediate priority. But it is fun to look.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Fireorb

We are interested in a suspended fireplace for the house. They simply hang from the ceiling and look really James-Bondish, and fit with the design themes we're aiming for. And besides being cool, they are a teeny bit practical, as the orb can be rotated 360° so as to direct the heat, and they don't take up a chunk of floor space.

These are quite a bit different than traditional Swedish fireplaces (of which I saw a multitude at the Hus Expo). The one pictured here is from a company called Fireorb, who make them near Chicago.

Perhaps I'll import one along with my Texas toilet???

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


There is a stuga in the archipelago which has a specific place in pop history. It's on the island of Viggsjö, and it once was the summer home of Björn Ulvaeus. He spent his holidays there, often visited by his friend Benny Anderson.

If you haven't guessed already, Benny and Björn are the 'BB' in ABBA. They co-wrote many of ABBA's hits out on Viggsjö. I think it's quite a romantic image- the little cabin with a piano, a couple of friends, and long summer days spent making perfect pop music.

I really like ABBA. I'm not embarrassed to admit it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

I called Värmdö Kommun today

I was getting a little antsy. So I called and spoke to a nice lady whose English was just a little better than my Swedish. Together, we muddled through my request to find the status of our application.

Bottom line is it seems the 6-month 'clock' has started in October as I had posted earlier. Not great relief for my being antsy as this puts us to a March or April start date.

However, I did get the case number and importantly, the name of the man in charge, for when I call next time. They suggested I wait a month or so before checking up again.

I may ask Janne to make that next call on my behalf as, besides speaking Swedish, he also knows what he's talking about, so he has two significant advantages over me!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Sooz is getting into the act

Sooz scored a vintage 1950's dinner service off ebay the other day.

It's a funky floral pattern, and she thinks it's just right for life in a summer house. In fact, our home here is filled with fun artifacts from the '50's, not the least of which is Mrs. Langford herself!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The World Toilet Organisation

Toilet activists in South Korea have built a house in the shape of a toilet to call attention to the fact that billions of people do not have proper sanitation.

More details can be seen here. (Note: I am not making this up.)

Too bad Stefan already has completed his drawings; I rather like the look of this place! Of course, I'm not too sure what Värmdö would make of this on the application.

UPDATE: Here is a link on the WTO. Interesting.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Episode 6: Return of the Incinerating Toilet

I was careful to walk down all the rows at the Hus Expo. Sure enough, my patience was rewarded when I came across this simple little toilet display tucked into a corner. It looked very much like the Cinderella, but the instructions were in English. It was called an "Incinolet".

What was really interesting was the serial plate on the back: it was made in Dallas, about a half-hour from where I used to live! The cost was a few thousand kronor less than the Cinderella, and it was overall a little bit different, but 90% the same.

I called the Incinolet people, and sure enough, they were a bunch of friendly Texans. They make 220-volt models for export, and amazingly, I could stop by and pick one up for a third of the cost of buying the unit in Sweden.

Even if I spent a grand to import it to Stockholm, I'd still be money ahead. That takes away a lot of the cost disadvantage of the Cinderella against the Separett, but it doesn't address the electrical issues. It is something to think about, though.

But then there's the question: do I want to get into the issues of becoming a Texan toilet importer???

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Internet access

Although the idea of a summer house is to get away from it all, frankly, I don't see myself spending a couple of consecutive weeks without the internet.

I don't have a blackberry; I'm not email obsessive. But I've grown so used to having contact, I started looking into a way to have decent connectivity when island-bound.

Värmdö Kommun has a typically thorough web page (in Swedish of course) which gives lots of details on broadband connectivity in the archipelago. Bottom line is Aspö isn't wired yet, although many of the bigger islands are.

There's a wireless provider, 3, (or 'tre' in Swedish), and after talking with them in detail, they promise 2mb coverage right on Aspö itself. The current cost is about $30 a month on a 2 year contract.

That's a little steep for a few weeks' use a year, but I've emailed Dave and we think perhaps he could also use the connection when he and Ann are on the island. That would increase its usefulness a lot! Plus it would be fun to update the blog from the building site (and eventually home site) itself. Stay tuned, as they say...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Separett Strikes Back

The Separett is gaining its defenders. Two blog posts, (one from Marg, and one strangely anonymous), both say the Separett is more civilized than I made it out to be.

It is true that the poop handling is done infrequently (only when the bucket is emptied), the cost to purchase is much less, and they are quite popular in Sweden. Plus, the Cinderella requires electricity to run (which is expensive on the island), and there's no backup in case of power failures.

Hmmm. Decisions, decisions.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Toilets, Episode IV: A New Hope

If composting and remote propane combustion isn't your bag, then an incinerating toilet is another option. This is the Cinderella toilet from an earlier post, and with Cinderella here is Johan, the helpful gentleman I spoke to a few weeks ago.

This really is the way to go; you simply place a paper cone (like a big coffee filter) into the bowl, sit down, do your business, and press flush. The cone slides down into a big combustion chamber, which is over 600°F (I think it's F, maybe it's C??).

Anyways, temperatures that hot will turn the waste to ash quickly, with little smell, and no handling of any poop. Plus there's no need for any tanks or plumbing, only a vent tube and an electric outlet is needed. It's all self-contained.

Here's the money shot, me on Cinderella's throne. The photo was Johan's idea.

Plusses: No waste handling, no tanks, no muss, no fuss. Can handle lots of waste in a short time if you have visitors for, say, a long weekend. No need for maintenance when not being used. Easy to install and use. No direct exposure to poop.

Minuses: Cost is 28,000 kronor, which is a lot no matter what the exchange rate does. You have to remember to use a paper filter every single time, it gets nasty without one. Also, 600°F (or 600°C) is pretty damned hot. And it has a lot of electronics; if there's a power outage or a electrical problem, then you're [insert joke here]!

But still, you can tell which way I'm leaning with this decision.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Toilets, Episode 3

This is the Separett toilet. Ann and Dave have one of these in their house. The idea is that solid and liquid wastes are separated and handled differently.

Liquid waste (also called 'tinkle') is taken away through a French drain into the earth, away from the house. You have to sit down to make the separating part work. No problem for the ladies, and perhaps just a little re-education for the guys.

Solid waste is collected below, essentially into a bucket. Now it's a nice bucket, lined with a biodegradable plastic bag, and it turns a little bit every time someone sits on it so the solid waste (also called "poop") is spread evenly, but it's still a bucket. A bucket filled with poop.

I have poop bags to pick up after Ollie on a walk but I don't necessarily want to do it after myself. Plus the new rules mean the bucket has to be sealed (they provide multiple buckets) for 6 months before composting. So I have to store sealed buckets of poop somewhere. Call me squeamish but I'm not sure about that. Also it has a fan system to ventilate the contents of the bucket. Because it doesn't mix with liquid waste ("tinkle") it is supposed to have less odor, and we didn't really notice any smell at all from Ann and Dave's, but it still seems a bit low-tech for me...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Swedish News

Margaret told me about a great English-language website, The Local. It is an entertaining read and I notice CNN has started to link to it, too.

Radio Sweden has a good daily podcast that you can listen to from their website, or subscribe to through iTunes.

Toilets, Episode 2

This is the CTS-2000. It is a vacuum toilet. Waste is vacuumed away with a little water, much like a flush toilet at home, and sent through a tube for processing. One advantage is that the tube can be 100 feet long, so the processing can be done far away from you, which is an advantage.

In this case, the waste-handling process is incineration. The blue box in this picture is a propane-powered combustion unit.

It's an interesting device, but it's overkill for a little summer house. The cost is high; 55,000 kronor! And then there's the matter of a big 'ol propane-powered poop processor just outside your home.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Toilets, Episode 1

A toilet is a petty simple device. It simply collects waste and sends it along for processing, in a hygienic and efficient way. We all take toilets for granted (those of us in the first world, at least).

But when you're in a situation where you have to provide for your own waste, then you don't take waste handling for granted at all.

On Aspö, most homes have some sort of composting toilet system. Liquid waste is drained away from the home into the earth, and solid waste is kept and composted. A bit of mulch, a few microbes, a bit of stirring, careful ventilation, and solid waste becomes harmless over time. However, new rules regarding composting are about to come into force. This composting regime will take more steps and more time before solid waste can be disposed of.

Spending extra time and work on handling solid waste isn't my cup of tea. So I decided to concentrate on the non-composting toilets at the expo.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Planning permission

Stefan just told me he's sent in the latest drawings to the authorities at Värmdö. I have been told it can take up to six months to get an OK (and this assumes they don't want to make their own measurements or alter the house design). If I assume the 'six month clock' started in late August when Janne sent the application in, then we should have the go-ahead by late February, which is plenty of time for an early June construction.

If the 'clock' starts from now, then it's mid-April, which is a little tight but still OK.

The reason I am anxious for the permission is that everything flows from that- we can't drill the well, or order the electricity, or put up the foundations, or get the final production drawings from Stefan. So there's a lot of waiting for the next couple of months, and then hopefully things will move quickly in the Spring.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An oxymoron

is a phrase that contradicts itself. "Military Intelligence" is an example, as is "Jumbo Shrimp". You can find lots more here.

Another oxymoron is "minor chainsaw accident". I had one of those when on Aspö recently.

Rutger let me use his saw after some instruction, and I was wearing my glasses and ear protection like a good boy. I had cut a branch, and it unexpectedly fell towards me. I pulled away, turning to the left, and I felt the saw make contact with my left thigh.

I looked down and saw a nice jagged gash in my jeans, but felt only a small sensation in my leg. For a hot second there, I figured I had really cut myself and braced myself for the pain to kick in and the blood to casacade out.

Fortunately, neither happened. I dropped my trou and saw that I had luckily only scratched myself a tiny bit. Mind you, there was enough blood for Rutger to become queasy and run to Claes for a first aid kit.

However, I was only a half-inch or a half-second away from doing something really nasty to myself. Besides freaking out Rutger slightly, I'm sure I disappointed Janne, who is very professional and serious in his work. Here I go, nearly slicing my leg off first chance I get!!!

Needless to say, Rutger did the rest of the chainsaw work for the day, and I am sure Janne will restrict me to hand tools for the time being. Perhaps for the best.

And note to self: buy a decent first-aid kit and bring it along on my next trip.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


The Hus Expo had two main halls, essentially one for interior goods, and one for exterior and building services. We'll get to the indoor exhibits (that is, toilets) in another post or three.

Among the exterior displays, I found a surprisingly interesting topic: doors.

To the left are a few photos I took at the expo. All of the doors I saw were from companies in Norrland, which is essentially the whole northern half of the country. Some of the largest forests in Europe still cover Norrland, so it's not surprising this region has a long-standing timber and carpentry tradition.

There were a few companies which really stood out with interesting door designs. Allmoge had a big product line, Diplomat seemed most traditional, Snickarper had lots of big-name designers, and Polardörren was the coolest (and with a good English website too).

We may stick with the standard door, because light already comes into the house from the big windows on the door side. On the other hand, it might be fun to have a colorful door with a funky window!!

A quickie

This site is a good summary of the history and culture of the Swedish summer house. I'll add it to the permanent links, too.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Our man Stefan

My first stop at the hus expo was to see the display set up by our home-builders, X-House. Stefan was there and we had a nice chat. Business is good with his company. Stefan told me the number of houses on order this year was more than double last year's. They are thinking about an English-language website, and I offered my lingustic skills should they be needed.

I also met the company's owner, a grandfatherly type, who was nonplussed by his enthusiastic American visitor.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lots of action this Sunday!

Got an email from Stefan this afternoon. He sent along the newest drawings based upon the latest map info and my measurements with Rutger last weekend.

The main difference is that we've moved the little house to be alongside the big house so they're both looking downhill towards the water. Our idea is the houses are related to each other as their doors are in the same direction, i.e. someone standing at the front door of one house can look left (or right) to the front door of the other.

A good island map

The Värmdö kommun has a great website; they even have an English page or two. But the most fun (for me, anyways) is through their map function.

I found a great image of Aspö, which shows the placement of all of the houses on the island. I made a small modification to add a circle where our house will go.

Janne called

this morning. He and Tony had gone out to the land and found the missing measuring point that Rutger and I couldn't. We had tromped around for what seemed like all morning, and I bet it took the two of them two minutes!

Anyways, the upshot of this is that the measurements of the land have changed slightly. Claes gave us a copy of his most recent document on the surrounding land, and it was slightly different than the original document Tony had.

Here's a copy of Claes' map. You can click on it for a bigger version. The key change is that the far point of the triangle is cut off slightly. It doesn't change the placement of the houses, so we're just waiting for an updated drawing from Stefan to send in.

Meet the Neighbors

There are two houses in the meadow behind us. The closest one is this little red stuga, occupied by Claes and Eva-Lis.

They're both artists. Claes makes museum- quality models of ships, mostly old Viking ships, but more recent types, too.

He was preparing for a visit the next day from the Stockholm Rotary club, and he had set out a number of his models in their studio at the rear of their house, which he was kind enough to show me.

Eva-Lis is a painter, I saw a number of her watercolours; here's an example of her work. Margaret tells me that Eva-Lis has a painting school in the summer, underneath a tent in the meadow. Ann was apparently a student last year. That sounds like fun!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Salubrious Effluvia

As planned, Rutger and I went out to Aspö for a day's worth of honest toil on the land.

Besides the chainsaw work, our main goal was to measure the perimeter as accurately as we could. Here's a shot of Rutger with his trusty tape measure.

We made good progress, and I've sent Stefan an updated sketch for us to include in the planning application. I'll post that as soon as it's completed.

At Janne's suggestion, we also set out as precisely as we could where the houses should sit on the property. The four corners of each house were set with yellow spray paint, pictured here.

They're not very good yellow dots; I don't think I have much of a career as a graffiti artist!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Rutger's Chainsaw Massacre

I have had a number of requests (really just one from my mother) for footage of Rutger and his work with his chainsaw. So here you go, mom, a little video of the man in action!

Perhaps other readers will enjoy the spectacle as well...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Toilet technologies

As we begin our journey through the wonderland of environmentally-friendly toilets, let's start by cataloging the main technologies available.

Vacuum toilets use little or no water. You may have used them on aircraft or on ships. Perhaps a bit overkill for an island summer home, but is most like the toilet you have at home.

Composting toilets take waste and collect it for decomposition. There many ways to collect, and many ways to decompose. Some methods are more attractive than others, to put it mildly.

Incinerating toilets burn waste in a very high-temperature process. Good news: all that icky stuff is quickly and permanently gone. Bad news: giant, expensive, power-hungry combustion chamber right between your legs.

More detailed posts on each type- complete with photos!- to follow.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Back from Sweden

Returned last night from an eventful whirlwind visit. Rutger and I did quite a lot of work on the land, what with tree-felling and plot-measuring, and we met our new neighbors (by borrowing first-aid supplies from them!) We also got to see Janne which is always a treat.

The next day, I visited the home expo and saw lots of fascinating things, especially many different types of toilets. I also met Stefan and Johan (whom you might recall from previous posts).

Stay tuned over upcoming days with lots of posts, especially about toilets. Lots of info about toilets.

Monday, October 1, 2007

VISA Cards

More mail arrived today- Stefan's tickets for the Hus Expo, and more interestingly, our Swedish VISA card for our new bank account.

It struck me that I now have bank accounts (and Visa Cards) in four different countries. What a jet-setter, eh?

There will be many more interesting posts after my weekend island visit with Rutger on Saturday and the Hus Expo on Sunday, so stay tuned.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

6.52. Ugh.

The dollar continues its slide.

Let's hope for a bit of relief in the coming months, or else I'll be putting a PayPal donation button on this blog!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Swedish Pop Music

There's no doubt Sweden punches above its weight in the pop music world. Besides the global 900-pound gorilla that is ABBA, there are many musicians plying their trade in Sweden today.

I am reading a terrific blog called SwedesPlease. It is full of current news about Swedish artists, and I enjoy reading it. Perhaps you might, too?

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Sooz wanted to make sure people signed in to our blog for commenting so we could know who said what.

I agree with her, but my fear is that the sign-in is inhibiting my readers (all dozen of you) from making an off-the-cuff response to my bons mots.

So I have turned this requirement off for now, to see if it engenders an increased flow of information.

Let's see if I am right-- keep those cards and letters coming!

PS. About a five minutes after I opened comments, I got one, all right- in Portuguese, selling ASDL (I think). Sigh...

Exchange rates

The dollar is plummeting against the kronor right now. It is 6.672 today. As you saw, I transferred money from the US recently at 6.888.

When you are dealing with house-buildingly large amounts of cash, the difference between 6.672 and 6.888 is quite a lot.

Fortunately, I've bought the land and have no immediate expenditures. I will be following the website for the Kronor's progress, and try to move money at an advantageous time.

It's not enough to build a house. No- I have to build it in another country, with a different language, and different currency. And on an island.

Ah well, no pain, no gain, as they say!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Swedish Lessons

A local college was offering Swedish lessons starting in just a couple of weeks, and it seemed perfect at first. But the total cost for both of us to attend was pretty high ($750), and the time commitment was also high, 30 weeks' worth, which we felt was too much.

Sooz is still looking for something not quite so intensive. We'll let you know....

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New York Stories

This past Sunday (September 9) marked the first anniversary of Margaret's bookstore in Stockholm, New York Stories.

It's a lovely little independent English-language store and we are very proud of Margaret following her dream! She has worked very hard over the past year, but her work is paying off. If you're ever in the hip neighborhood of St. Eriksplan, be sure to stop on in.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

We get mail!

Couple things arrived today. First was the bank statement, showing the successful transfer of a slightly worryingly large amount of money. The exchange rate we got was 6.888 Swedish Kronor to the dollar. I had planned 6.9 in my budget so that's about right. (Wouldn't mind it skyrocketing into the 7's though!)

Second was a letter from Värmdö which Sooz was pretty much able to read, (and which Margaret later confirmed), that said they had received our application. They asked for a drawing of the house's orientation on the land, and that is exactly what Rutger and I plan to confirm in a couple weeks, so that's fine.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Stockholm Home Expo

A bit of good fortune. Johan (from the Cinderella vendor in Vallingby) told me about a Home Expo in Stockholm- and it's on the Sunday I'll be there! Stefan has also e-mailed me, and he'll be there, too. Perfect.

So I'll report back on toilets and who knows what else!

Monday, September 3, 2007


I've referred obliquely to my struggles with Swedish in previous posts. In some ways, it's not a big problem, because everyone I speak with has an excellent command of English. And I have friends in Sweden (especially Janne on the construction side and Rutger on the administration) to help with getting things done.

Where it does cause a problem is with documents or websites, like the Cinderella user's guide or the Värmdö planning application. Plus we do intend to spend a lot of time in Sweden, so it's only fair we try to speak the language!

Sooz is looking into Swedish lessons in London and she has found a couple of good possibilities. Stay tuned for developments...

Saturday, September 1, 2007

My trip is set

Just talked to Rutger. He's up for a day on the island. So I bought my ticket (BA was the cheapest; wish me luck with Heathrow!)

After our visit, I expect we'll have a better sense of the exact perimeter of the land, and the placement of the house.

We'll probably visit IKEA, too. And drink öl. (Not in conjunction with the chainsaw, of course.)


One very interesting type of self-contained toilet is the 'Cinderella', which is made in Norway. The idea is that it uses an electric heater to dry out waste so only ashes need to be disposed of. (Now you know why it's called 'Cinderella'. Who said Norwegians don't have a sense of humour??)
- No need for a tank under the house
- High capacity; could handle a couple of families for a week
- Shuts down in the winter so no need for long-term composting
- Did I mention you handle only ashes and nothing unsavory?
- Expensive! (as much as $4000)!?!
- Uses a lot of electricity, which isn't cheap
- Is a high-powered heating element in a timber house with minimal available water a good idea?

I found a reseller in Sweden, fortunately near Rutger's house. They were charming to me, the American caller, and sent me an old English-language user's manual, which I have posted here for the curious. We may go see when I'm up in October.

Swedish Banking

We opened a bank account last time we were in Stockholm. It wasn't too painful; Margaret had made an appointment for us to meet her banker. I wired over a small amount of money from my US bank, although it took a few emails and Google searches to find all the right codes to satisfy all parties.

But our test was ultimately successful and I was able to access our account through the internet. (It took a bit of trial and error, given my limited Swedish!) Next step is to transfer a big chunk over so I can pay Tony, as he's sent me the signed land contract. I plan to pick a day when the US economy has good news. Wish me luck...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


There are a number of things to deal with when building a home on an island. The things that make island living so nice-- the remoteness, the unspoiled landscape, the lack of mechanisation, the sense of community-- also make the act of building a bit more complicated.

Aspö has electricity and phone service, and fresh water within easy drilling. It has regular boat and mail service, and trash is picked up in the summers. There's even a local grocery who will deliver to your dock!

The one thing it doesn't have is any type of sewage system. This means all toilets have to be self-contained. The good news is there are many types of composting toilets to choose from. The bad news is that there are many types, and everyone I've spoken to has their own favourite!

Stay tuned for a bit more information in coming posts about the pros and cons of various toilet technologies. I bet you can't wait...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Drawings Pt. 2

This is a close-up of the land drawing from Stefan's files in the previous post. As I said before, this is the one item that's still unresolved for me. I really need to go back to Aspö and have another very good study so I can visualise it.

I spoke to Rutger yesterday, and he's up for going out with me one weekend (probably October 6) for some detailed measuring and clearing. He has a chain saw he's itching to use. In fact, he said he was ready for an "Aspö Chainsaw Massacre". No wonder we get along...


Stefan has had the latest drawings done for our planning permission. It's a 4-page PDF you can see here.

Janne is going to attach these to the application to Värmdö. He's making a drawing for the application that shows where the waste water goes (from the sinks and shower, not the toilet. That's a whole other story). Thank goodness for Janne!

The image in this post is my drawing of the interior (click for a larger version). I coloured the deck green and the windows blue, it helped me visualise better. It shows clearly that about a third of the house's footprint is outside, which is just what we want. We're also going to keep the kitchen as open as we can; that little box in the kitchen ("kök") represents a low island rather than the tall green pillar in the show house.

Friday, August 24, 2007


I have avoided keeping a general blog because I have a wide range of interests (perhaps too wide), and I foresaw myself blogging obsessively about English football, giant squids, flux capacitors, bridge inspections, iPod rumours, etc.

Focusing on our house is a good way to keep it under control for both me and you. But I still have a jones to write about random things, so here's my solution. I will make a list of topics that strike my fancy on the left of this blog. If any topic generates interest enough from the readership through the comments, I'll make a post on it. If not, my itch will have been scratched and little time will have been wasted for all of us.

How's that?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


I really like modern design. When I was a young man, I saw an exhibition at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis about the Rietveld- Schroder house in Utrecht. (I wasn't a very exciting teenager, I'll admit. Spent most of high school in the AV club). Anyways, at the time Utrecht was for me about as far away as the moon. But I joined American Airlines, married a girl who liked to travel, and long story short, we went to Utrecht together in 1996 and toured the house. That was really cool.

Since then, we've visited the Barcelona Pavilion, the Villa Tugendhat in Brno, and Fallingwater. My favourite was when Sooz arranged for us to stay in Room 606 at the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen. It is ironic that I live in a land of castles and manor houses, yet prefer the kind of architecture that gives Prince Charles heartburn!

Going ahead with our summer house, it struck me (us, really) that we could kill two birds with one stone: have a modern house and in one of our favourite places. I'm not too worried about getting the planning permission for a modern house; our land is inland, and the authorities worry a lot more about the look of waterfront building. Plus it is a Swedish house, and although the design isn't traditional, the materials and construction are. And it's not that big and it won't be a funky colour. (Hmm, maybe I am a little worried!)

I will be happier, though, when the Värmdö Kommun gives us the full go-ahead. Not only can we get the well drilled and the electricity ordered, but that little design uncertainty will be gone. Janne is finishing the paperwork and sending it all in soon. It'll take a few months to get the decision, but we do have lots of time.

The X-House

Here's the house we are planning to build. It is called an "X-House". It's made in northern Sweden, the town of Fränsta to be precise.

Many homes in Sweden, especially summer homes, have a traditional design and use traditional colours. You can see a good example of that kind of house here. We want to do something more modern, so the X-House was a great option for us. It is a solid timber house, made by a local company, with an open interior plan and a great glass transition from the front of the house to the outdoors.

On our last visit to Stockholm, we visited the model and took a number of photos. You can get a good sense of our house from seeing those photos here. Because the great wood beams are fabricated and cut to order like giant Legos, you can order whatever you like and have a big 'ol kit, all numbered and wrapped, sent to the destination of your choice to put it together.

We've chosen two of their models, the main house is the "Selma", which is about 60 square meters. We've added a bit to its length and made a few other modifications. The second is their small "Clara" house, 18 square meters. We plan to use that as a shed/guest house. The main house will have two bedrooms, and we'll put at least a couple of beds in the little house, too. That way another family can visit and have some space and privacy.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A tiny digression

I have always thought, should I end up stranded like Gilligan and his fellow castaways, that in the group I would play the role of the Professor, making bamboo radios and the like.

I have recently come to the realisation, however, that should I be stranded today, I am much more likely to play the role of Mr. Howell.